Germanic street preacher

Gavin Friday tells us about his new project, his love of all things German, and how Fritz Lang gets him hot under the collar.

“I think working on Pluto gave me the horn again.”

No, Gavin Friday isn’t referring to the homo-erotically charged scenes between his Billy Hatchet character and Patrick ‘Kitten’ Braden in Breakfast On Pluto, but his return to the live stage after a decade dominated by film work, Peter & The Wolf, Virgin Prunes reissues and the odd one-off extravaganza like the Kurt Weill-themed Ich Liebe Dich or the spoken word show I Didn’t Come Up The Liffey In A Bubble.

“I went, ‘This is stupid, I should be on stage’,” the singer continues. “The new year came in and I was approached to revamp Ich Liebe Dich, so I thought long and hard about it and decided, ‘No, I want to write a new album, it’d take too long, blah-blah-blah.’ And as soon as I said no and hung up the phone, I started writing. Beck’s came along and said, ‘We’ll give you some money, why don’t you do something about German culture?’ And I started thinking, ‘Take away Brecht and Weill, take away Ich Liebe Dich, that’s its own entity and I’m very proud of it, but why do I love German culture?”

The answer to that million-Deutschmark question can be found in Tomorrow Belongs To Me, an audio-visual homage to 20th century Germany that takes place at Liberty Hall this month, covering everything from old-school gothic to electronica to German Expressionism.

“Very obviously it was Bowie who introduced German culture to me,” Friday says. “You didn’t know what ‘Lady Grinning Soul’ was when you were 13, but you felt you knew. And I remember seeing Cabaret in ’72, ’73, and saying, ‘That’s unbelievable’. And so then you buy Berlin Stories by [Christopher] Isherwood, which is not like the movie, it’s heavier. And then Bowie and Iggy went to Berlin, Low, Heroes, The Idiot, Lust For Life, four of the most important and mind-blowing albums of the late 70s, and you think, ‘Why is he going to Berlin?’ and you start buying albums by Kraftwerk, Neu! and Can.”

All of whom constructed musical think tanks in which the prog rockers and the punks could meet after dark and swap state secrets. Subsequently, Berlin’s forbidden pleasures informed work by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Depeche Mode, the embyronic My Bloody Valentine, and Wim Wenders’ film Wings Of Desire. U2 decamped to Hansa studios when the wall came down, reopening channels that the Virgin Prunes had already investigated a decade earlier, on a significantly smaller budget.

Almost as soon as he set foot on German soil, Friday remembers, he was intrigued by and smitten with the country’s music, art, literature and film.

“Where it really went off was when I toured,” he says, “because the Virgin Prunes were really popular in Germany, this was when east was east and west was west, the corridor would take you 12 hours to get through in the back of a hi-ace van, no seats, on a mattress, with pigs’ heads! It was really interesting: everyone was young and fucked-up on heroin, or really old and dying.”

As for the title of the show, Tomorrow Belongs To Me derives from an old German folk song appropriated by the Nazis, later reappropriated by the Alex Harvey Band.

“The country has got such a bad deal because of Hitler,” Friday declares. “The architecture, the movies, the scientists, all the guys the Americans poached who had to get out of Germany because of the Third Reich. You look at Metropolis, which was made in 1927, I still don’t know how he [Fritz Lang] made it.”

Certainly, the German Expressionist cinema of the ’20s infiltrated western pop culture for decades to come, most markedly in the areas of sci-fi and film noir. The elongated shadows, elaborate sets and stylised cinematography were major influences on everything from Night Of The Hunter to Blade Runner. To Friday’s delight, he received permission to plunder that golden age of film for the new show.

“I wrote very nice letters to the Goethe Institut,” he explains, “and they’ve allowed me to sample Metropolis, The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari, M, The Blue Angel, the original Nosferatu. I was nearly having an orgasm the other day sampling these movies. I couldn’t get the rights to The Tin Drum or a lot of Fassbinder or Herzog, it was much easier to get the rights to movies made 80 or 90 years ago. Any movie that’s on a big American label, forget it.

“So it started off with just a piano, now it’s a six-piece band. It’s quite adventurous, using dialogue from movies and some anti-Nazi poems and incorporating them into songs. But this isn’t like a Kurt Weill thing, I’ve made everything Sex Pistols-pink in the poster, with a Ziggy bolt. I mean, one of the greatest pieces of dance music ever written was ‘I Feel Love’ (by Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder) 30 years ago, and it’d blow your head in. Then there were the Munich music factories: Boney M, Baccara, Silver Convention. But I won’t be doing any David Hasselhoff stuff; there’ll be none of that!”

 

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